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Honouring Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett

October 28, 2016

By my colleague, guest blogger Mark Heinrich:

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Credit: Jo Randall

The hometown of Syd Barrett has unveiled a suitably psychedelic public artwork and staged a concert of his songs to commemorate the visionary founder of the Pink Floyd rock group, but he would have laughed off the tribute, his sister says.

 
Barrett was the main songwriter and lead guitarist in early Pink Floyd, with explorations of distortion and feedback that influenced many musicians. The band went on to super-stardom but  Barrett flamed out in drug-induced madness in the late 1960s and retreating to life as a recluse.

 
A decade after his death at 60, the university city of Cambridge where Barrett and other Floyd members grew up launched an artwork named “Coda” in his memory at the Corn Exchange music venue where he re-emerged for his last, abortive, gig in 1972.

 
Mounted to a wall, “Coda” is a psychedelically patterned, mirrored aluminum box with a central circle showing a whirring bicycle wheel with moving images of Barrett materialising at irregular intervals. It is a surrealist play on Barrett’s famous silver guitar and his whimsical song “Bike” on Pink Floyd’s first album, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, as well as on the avid cycling culture of present-day Cambridge.

 
There was also a concert to mark the occasion, featuring Men on the Border, a Swedish rock band specialising in Barrett’s quirky post-Floyd solo oeuvre and backed up by the Sandviken Symphony Orchestra. They began with Barrett’s signature sonic Floyd freakout, “Astronomy Domine”. A spacey, dreamlike light show complemented the music courtesy of Peter Wynne Willson, who designed the spectacular stage pyrotechnics pioneered by Pink Floyd in the Barrett era.

 
But Barrett would not have been impressed by the tribute, and probably would not have attended it, said Rosemary Breen, his sister who did much to care for him during his decades of self-imposed isolation.

 

 

“He would have laughed at this, seen it as ridiculous. He never felt he did anything special, he was just having fun. He didn’t understand the idea of celebrity or the commercial side of things, it went totally over his head.”
“With his mental makeup, it stopped being fun, he got so tired and he couldn’t carry on” under the pressure of constant touring and demands for more hits. “I encouraged him to go back to painting and he did (for the rest of his life). That was probably his most natural cultural outlet in the end.”

 

 

Jack Monck, who played bass in Barrett’s last band Stars and witnessed his on-stage meltdown at his final public gig, said the man he knew bore no similarity to his Pink Floyd brilliance.

 
“The guy who had so much creativity and drive in the beginning was gone. It (tribute) was probably overdue, but it’s a bit of a cult, this thing,” Monck said after the concert.
Barrett’s breakdown lurked in some of his songs – one of his two solo albums was titled “The Madcap Laughs “- and it influenced Pink Floyd’s frequent lyrics about alienation and absence as the band evolved into a mega-successful pop phenomena.

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